It's been more than three decades since Sheila Akinleye was a sixth-grade Indianapolis Public Schools student in Mrs. Pickering's class, but she still vividly remembers dressing up as Madame C.J. Walker for a public speaking presentation and discussing books such as George Orwell's "Animal Farm."
Akinleye also recalls the tremendous impact Mrs. Pickering had on inspiring her love for learning. Today, as a math teacher at IPS' Sidener Gifted Academy, it's something she strives to replicate.
"I don't want the kids to give up," Akinleye said. "I always try to put them in the frame of mind, 'You can do it if you really want to. It's not how intelligent you are. It's how driven you are to really work hard.'"
Akinleye found her way into teaching after working as a manufacturing engineer with Ford Motor Co., getting a master's degree in landscape architecture and working as a field researcher for RAND Corp.
She would not have made the transition to teaching, she said, without the ability to become a full-fledged classroom teacher at the same time she was earning a master's degree in education. Akinleye accomplished that as a member of the first local cohort of TNTP, a program The Mind Trust recruited to Indianapolis to help talented professionals from non-education backgrounds transition into teaching. The local program is called Indianapolis Teaching Fellows.
Akinleye's work has made a tremendous impact on her students. In her first year at Sidener, the fifth, sixth and seventh grade students she taught had a 95 percent pass rate on the Algebra 1 ISTEP+ End of Course Assessment. Five years after Akinleye became a teacher, she remains dedicated to the profession and is taking on a new assignment at next year as a plant and soil sciences instructor at IPS Arsenal Technical High School. She aims to one day complete her PhD in education and is considering becoming a school administrator.
For now, though, she thrives on working with students and seeing they've made progress. And, like Mrs. Pickering, she hopes to make an impression they'll remember for years to come.